Monday, September Second,
Brocken Academy, Central Germany.
Combat training grounds; Small Arena.
At the far end of the small paddock that served as one of the Academy's training arenas, a figure stood, clad in black cloth and silver armor. She carried on her shoulder a large polearm-axe, commonly known as a Bardiche, although even from this distance one could tell it wasn't a normal one. Off to one side, near the center of the field, was another person, a more studiously dressed individual, wielding a clipboard and a wand, the overseer of the match. A light breeze rustled the trees surrounding the clearing, the late summer weather nevertheless causing a few leaves to drop; the first signs of the onset of fall. It was this setting, in which a certain first year was being tested. Tested on her skill, power, and control, and tested on whether or not she would be accepted into a special program at the Brocken Academy. The Magitech Program.
Astrid, the certain first year, confidently strode into the training arena, with her knee length red skirt billowing lightly in the wind and her right arm swinging in long arcs by her side. With a toothy grin, the twelve year old held her weapon over her left shoulder, the heavy barrel dragging slightly against the ground behind her. To her this try out seemed to be little more than a practice match that she needed to get over with before she could move on with the rest of her training. It wasn't long before she reached her starting position, and she swung her tetsubo off of her shoulder; letting the end of the barrel rest on the ground as it stood up next to her, dwarfing her by more than a foot.
The studious overseer to the side of the arena pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose, scratching something down on the clipboard, before turning first to the newcoming first year, and then to the axe-wielding opponent which the small girl now faced, nodding at the latter, whom nodded back. He then announced, simply: "Begin!"
The Black-clad girl's bardiche swung down from her shoulder, and came to rest at her hip in less than the blink of an eye. Before most humans could process, she had fired off a round from the integrated rifle, the shell sending a burst of concentrated magic across the field and directly at Astrid, and by the time that blink would have finished, the black clad girl was no longer in her prior position, but rather had begun to strafe to her left, firing several more shells as she went.
As the match began, a small part of Astrid had a feeling things wouldn't run as smoothly as she had anticipated. It was the speed of her opponent that caught her off guard, but the opening move was not hard to see coming. While she almost did not have enough time to bring up the end of her club, before the opening shot could reach the young girl she fired a powerful blast from the end of the tetsubo. The recoil of her own shot pushed against her which she used to spin herself on her heel while her opponent's shot burst upon meeting her own.
As she spun back around, the end of her tetsubo was planted in the ground, and she proceeded to brace a leg on it while using its studs as a grip. Wearing another wide grin Astrid fired another powerful blast that propelled both herself and her tetsubo forward at an alarming rate directly toward her opponent.
Who, with the sound of another shell going off, disappeared once more. The black clad girl's own weapon was also capable of increasing mobility, leaving Astrid to once again look for her target, as well as ponder how to get into a position that would allow her to strike. She didn't have to wait especially long, as her opponent appeared above her, spinning gracefully in a diagonal pirouette that was deftly aimed at landing a blow on the twelve year old.
Thankfully, as this was a test an not an actual battle, Astrid would have just enough time to realize that the blade was pointed away from her before her enemy lashed out, striking Astrid's Tetsubo with the Bardiche's shaft, sending the first year straight to the ground, before alighting to the ground herself just behind the young brawler.
Much to the little girl's surprise, her trajectory was drastically altered, and she careened towards the ground. Bracing herself, the metal ball that capped her handle connected with the ground first, and with a quick push she rolled off of her weapon. Angling the handle up a bit, Astrid fired once more and launched the tetsubo in another arc. Using her heel as a pivot, she fired a second shell to increase her velocity as she spun the weapon towards the black clad figure.
The Bardiche's point was swiftly stuffed into the ground, and its owner did a half-somersault, positioning herself on the end of the shaft before another shell launched her and her weapon into the air like a rocket, Astrid's Tetsubo just making contact with the Bardiche as it climbed, turning the ballistic trajectory into more of a spin. Frustratingly, the black clad girl seemed to have been expecting this, and recovered into a tucked roll that sent her away from the heavy handed German. Tumbling once on the ground, she sprang back to her feet like a rebounding tiger and smirked, speaking for the first time.
"You'll have to be faster than that if you expect to land a solid hit." The taunt was followed by several shell bursts in a row, the girl in black launching herself forward directly at Astrid, Bardiche trailing behind her menacingly.
Astrid almost snarled as the other taunted her. "I'll show you fast!" the girl shouted as she once again planted the barrel of her tetsubo into the ground behind her. Gripping the handle with both hands she held it behind her with the end arced over her head, and with a fiery gleam in her eye she fired again to send her heavy weapon an a fierce overhead arc aimed at smashing it and anyone caught in its way into the ground.
Sparks flew as Astrid's weapon smashed against her opponent's blade, but the twelve year old, instead of feeling the tetsubo swing nearly unobstructed to the ground, found it instead ground to a halt, just shy of level with her head. A sharp metallic sound followed by a gentle pressure on the back of Astrid's neck accompanied a smile from her opponent, and Astrid watched first in horror, and then relief as the black-clad girl began squeezing her weapon's trigger, but then relaxed.
"Bang. You're dead" she said in an even tone, before a magic whistle from the overseer called the match to an end. The opponent's weapon returned to its original shape before she drew back, finally recalling the bardiche to its collapsed position, and stowing it in a sling that hung at the small of her back.
"Crude, but effective. Your weapon has massive power, and you certainly know how to use it to your advantage. However, you are not a warrior yet. Rather, I'd deem you a Brawler-Waif." The black clad girl approached Astrid now in a relaxed manner, a hand outstretched for a greeting shake. "I am Kara Maarten, Seventh year, representative of the magitech program. You, Astrid Eberstark, have passed the entry exam. Congratulations."
The edges of Astrid's mouth twitched slightly as the prideful German tried to come to terms with losing. Changing her stance a bit, she looked away from Kara for a moment as a disappointed tear almost surfaced. "Well, I woulda won if I wasn't up against an old woman who graduates soon," Astrid said as she defaulted to her usual defense when power didn't work.
"But I suppose it is good that there are strong people like you here, I wouldn't want things to be too easy," she said as she returned the handshake.
"Three years is not as soon as it seems" Kara commented, indicating the seventh year pin on the collar of her vest as she ruffled Astrid's hair a little more roughly than was necessary. "If you had been looking for easy, this would have been the wrong place to go, anyway" she commented, leading the German girl to the overseer, whom peered at her down the bridge of his nose, spectacles glinting authoritatively as he eyed the small girl and her large club. A few more scribbles on the clipboard, and then he ripped a sheet off, handing it to the girl.
"Here's the results. You've scored very well for a first year, so you'll be sent straight to individual tutoring. Be advised; it will be difficult, and many do not make it. Let me know if you'd like to quit." With that, he walked off into the forest, taking one of the numerous paths through the woods back toward the Academy proper.
Astrid's demeanor lit up for a moment as she received the good news, but she quickly shifted back to her usual cocky self. "As to be expected," she said as she practically posed with her weapon in hand. "And I do not quit, so I expect to be impressed by my tutor."
"So, uh, now what do we do?" Astrid hesitantly questioned as the overseer disappeared, leaving her and Kara where they were.
"Well, it's my duty to take you and that piece of paper to a councilor, so you can be assigned. Not just a tutor, but also a dorm, a roommate, and all of your basic classes." Kara waved her hand around at the forest, pausing for a few moments at each of the paths; two directly in front of them, three behind them, and one each to their left and their right.
"And also, you need to choose a path. You've taken your first steps by joining this program, but where those steps will lead is up to you. Many paths lead through the forest. Most of them lead to the same place, but a few lead elsewhere. Some paths seem dark but end in light, some seem bright but end only in darkness. And some are even dark, or light, from beginning to end."
Kara stared off into the forest as she said this, seeming to be heading for a deep conversation, before she added: "That's what the guidebook says on the first page, anyway. I'd suggest keeping it in mind. but for now, any of these paths will lead us back to the Academy. So, choose one and we'll head on our way."
The ornery German girl seemed to have been swayed by the romanticized explanation and thought about the path she should take. After inspecting what she could of the paths, and remembering Kara's explanation, Astrid came to her decision. Hoisting her tetsubo over her head, she used the large club to point to her choice. "I'm taking the darkest, roughest path I see! Let's go!"
Setting the club back on her shoulder, she marched off of the arena much the same way she had marched on to it.
Kara watched as Astrid began to march down the path, but called out to her before she got very far. "There is another option, you know" the girl informed Astrid. "One which only you can know. It's the path you make yourself." Kara paused for a bit, and as if to add emphasis the breeze shook the trees once more, leaves fluttering through the air between the two girls.
"My path is to soar above all others, and it is a path you can make, as well." Kara pulled out her bardiche, pointing the tip toward the ground angled toward the school, and hopped into the air, firing a shot, and disappearing through the gap in the canopy, rustling more leaves as she went.
"Now that is my kind of path," Astrid said as she planted her tetsubo firmly on the ground in front of her. Angling it forward in the direction Kara took, Astrid pointed a finger to the sky and fired the weapon and rocketing herself over the trees. "This is so much better than chopping wood!"